District Judge Steve Ellis denied a defense attorney's motion Wednesday to declare as unconstitutional the state law that mandates life in prison without parole for non-death-penalty capital murder convictions.
Attorney Evan Pierce-Jones of San Angelo, who is representing Matthew Navarro — one of four men charged with capital murder in the December 2009 shooting death of Ronald Philen in Brownwood — argued the motion in Ellis' courtroom.
In an earlier hearing, Jones said he intended to present evidence that the brain development of a 19-year-old — the age Navarro was at the time of the murder — is more like a juvenile than an adult. Jones noted then that the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that the brain development of juveniles and adults, in areas including judgment, risk-taking and impulse control, is not the same. Jones noted that life with parole is not mandated for juveniles in capital murder cases and argued that the same guideline should apply to a 19-year-old.
Jones presented testimony Wednesday from Dallas forensic and clinical psychologist Dr. Mark Cunningham, a graduate of Abilene Christian University and Oklahoma State University. Cunningham is a former naval officer and former assistant professor at Hardin Simmons University.
Cunningham's testimony included his studies of the development of the brain.
One of Navarro's co-defendants, Pedro Rocha Jr., was found guilty in November of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison with no parole.
Two other co-defendants, Alex Gil Jr. and Efrain Castillo III, pleaded guilty to murder last year in exchange for 40-year prison sentences.